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4 Climate-Friendly Lawn Alternatives

Tips and Tools
Nov 8, 2021
5 min read
  • lawn mower

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So, you’ve taken steps to reduce your home’s carbon emissions, but what about your lawn?

 Traditional turf lawns may look idyllic to some, but they often need a great deal of maintenance—and a great deal of water, especially in the summer.

 Add to that the emissions of gas-powered tools like lawnmowers and trimmers, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and your green-grass lawn can easily turn your outdoor space into an environmental liability rather than an eco-friendly retreat.

There are about 6.2 million turf lawns in Canada. And while they’re a convenient place to set out a lawn chair or play a game of croquet, the downside is they can be ecologically damaging and lack carbon-sequestering trees and plants, including pollinator plants, all of which help the soil build a better carbon sink.

 If you’re looking to incorporate more sustainable alternatives to your turf lawn, here are four earth-friendly approaches to consider.

1. Install a natural groundcover or no-mow yard

 If you want that green-grass look without the heavy environmental impact, consider installing a natural groundcover alternative. Natural groundcovers consist of low-maintenance plants that spread quickly and grow close to the ground, so you don’t have to mow your yard.

 There are plenty of groundcover alternatives, but the one you choose for your yard should depend largely on the climate and conditions you live in. For instance, if your lawn is covered by shade for most of the day, moss is a solid choice. It doesn’t hold up well to foot traffic, though, so think about how you’ll use the space before installing a full moss carpet.

backyard lawn alternatives

Lily of the valley flowers and sweet woodruff are perennials that do well in shaded areas, too. You can add these to footpaths beside your house or in the dark corners of your garden.

If you live in hot, arid conditions, consider a rock garden with drought-tolerant succulents. Native grasses, shrubs or red-creeping thyme also do well in hotter climates, and they add personality to your property without the extra hassle of constant watering and maintenance. 

For other climate conditions, think about adding micro-clover to your lawn. Micro-clover doesn’t grow tall, does well in poor soil conditions, requires way less water to stay green and spreads easily—perfect for a no-fuss green-lawn look minus the ecological impact.

Finally, if you’re an animal-lover, you know very well that dog pee is no friend to green-grass lawns. Adding a pet-friendly mulch or gravel lawn covers (except in super-hot climates, where super-hot gravel might hurt your pup’s paws!) will help keep odours at bay, and you won’t have to worry about unsightly dead grass patches.

2. Expand your outdoor living space with sustainable pavers

Going carbon-friendly doesn’t mean you have to give up on a luxurious yard—we might argue the opposite is true. Picture your outdoor space as a blank canvas for creating your personal oasis. Ask yourself, who and what is the space for?

Do you enjoy hanging out on the patio with family and friends? If the answer is yes, then consider extending your outdoor entertaining area with an expanded deck made from environmentally friendly building materials such as repurposed wood or pavers that are designed to let water through to the ground.

backyard deck

If you have kids, think about setting up a non-plastic playground set (or buy a used one!), complete with a mulch or sand base.

Installing a paved courtyard is perfect for enjoying a natural garden. To incorporate sustainable cement alternatives, look for contractors that include green concrete, AshCrete or microsilica into the design.

 Read more about how to choose between a deck vs a patio.

3. Grow your own vegetable garden

 If you’re going to be spending all day in your garden, why not make it extra functional by growing some veggies? That’s not to say that growing native plants and flowers isn’t functional—any horticulturist will agree that all flora has its place in the garden, providing habitat and food for the insects, birds and other creatures we share this planet with.

 But growing your own food has an added bonus: not only does it help the environment, it can also have positive impacts on your health. You’ll have access to the freshest ingredients, get outdoor exercise and lower your grocery bill and reduce transport emissions. Not to mention you’ll know exactly where your vegetables came from.

 When planning your vegetable garden, consider your location and how much light your beds get. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are sun-thirsty, while arugula, peas and horseradish do well in partly shaded areas. Using homemade compost enriches the soil and encourages a healthy natural ecosystem while reducing the use of chemical fertilizers. 

4. Replace at least half your lawn with native plants

Native plants and flowers are already acclimated to your area, so you don’t have to worry about them suffering from culture shock. Plus, they’re accustomed to the amount of sun and rainwater your region receives, so you won’t have to fuss too much over care and maintenance.


Growing native plants is self-sustaining, carbon-sequestering, provides for healthy pollinators and improves the overall impact of a natural habitat. What’s not to love?

More good news: Sticking to native species doesn’t mean you’re limited in options. From pretty perennials like goatsbeard and Pacific bleeding hearts, which thrive in much of coastal B.C., to wild lupine and spicebush, which help decorate parts of Ontario, there’s an abundance of choice in every ecoregion. There are also plenty of online tools and resources to help you figure out which plants are native to where you live.

While it’s easy for all of us to fall into that seasonal pastime of getting (and keeping) our lawns their greenest, stepping back from the race and taking a more sustainable approach to our outdoor spaces can be much more fun—and so much more satisfying.

After all, who wouldn’t want to feast on homegrown, nutrient-rich veggies while lounging on an all-natural patio surrounded by low-maintenance plants that support the health of our planet?

Looking for more outdoor landscaping tips? Read our article on backyard patio ideas on a budget.

Which lawn alternative is right for you?

There are many lawn alternatives and climate-friendly options available on the market. A professional landscaper can help you plan your outdoor renovation projects and choose the best lawn option for you.

Submit your landscaping project today with Smart Reno to get 3 free quotes from qualified landscapers near you.

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